UA recruits National Merit Scholars

By Andrea Kelly
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday February 2, 2004

The number of National Merit Scholars at the UA has decreased over the past three years, and to reverse that trend, the UA is stepping up its recruitment efforts.

UA officials flew in 19 National Merit Scholars from Western states Thursday and Friday to entice them to enroll at the UA.

The 19 students who flew to Tucson Thursday morning were treated to a lunch with administrators and honors students, a campus tour and an informational meeting about the Honors College.

The scholars also spent some time at the club fair on the UA Mall, ate pizza while listening to the pep band in Wilbur's Underground during the basketball game, and spent Thursday night in residence halls with honors students.

The event was coordinated to increase the number of National Merit Scholars who enroll at the UA.

Since 2001, the number of National Merit Scholars at the UA has decreased, a fact that concerns administrators who want to attract top students.

Last fall, 58 National Merit Scholars enrolled at the UA, compared to 68 in 2001.

The Honors College used last week's two-day visit as a recruitment strategy for the first time last year, said Stephanie Adamson, assistant director of the Honors College. The first nonresident recruitment event hosted about 25 National Merit Scholars for a similar two-day visit. This year, the college will have three of these visits.

Last week's visit, the first of the year, brought 19 prospective students to Tucson. The other two scheduled visits are Feb. 28 and 29, and March 4 and 5.

Arizona State University also recruits National Merit Scholars with money and other incentives and has consistently attracted more National Merit Scholars than the UA.

Last year, ASU enrolled 137 nonresident National Merit Scholars and 37 scholars from Arizona. Comparatively, ASU had 174 new National Merit Scholars last fall and the UA had 58.

ASU's nonresident National Merit Scholar recruitment is different from the UA's strategy. Mark Jacobs, dean of ASU's Barrett Honors College, personally makes visits and meets with prospective students, who have earned the national title based on SAT scores.

"We spend the entire spring semester meeting out-of-staters in their regions," Jacobs said.

The UA does not give Arizona residents the same type of visit they provide to nonresidents, Adamson said. There are about five or six days that Arizona National Merit Scholars can come to visit campus.

Jacobs said though ASU and UA recruiting differ, they share the goal of bringing National Merit Scholars to Arizona because it betters the state to have both resident and nonresident scholars in the schools.

"People value having smart kids in class; eventually this leads to a benefit for the state," Jacobs said. Arizona profits if those students stay and contribute to the economy and job market.

Jacobs also said recruitment efforts are aimed at National Merit Scholars because they contribute positively to the learning environment for all students.

"When they get into classes, they speak up more, they have more opinions. It raises the level of the class to have these students in it," Jacobs said.

Friday after breakfast, the National Merit Scholars had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the college they thought they might be interested in.

Emily Bien traveled from Arcadia, Calif., for the visit and said it was worthwhile.

"It helps to get to know the school better," she said. "You wonder why the school would want you, but I also want to know why I would want to go here," she said.

Bien has applied to the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Los Angeles; Harvard University; Yale University and Dartmouth College, in addition to the UA.

She said she liked the special treatment and privileges students get in the Honors College and did not yet know much about the honors programs at the other schools she is considering.

Of her choices, only the UA, UCLA and Berkeley award scholarships for National Merit Standing.

Lots of factors will weigh in on the final decision for Adam Kowalski, from Lakewood, Colo., but the most important will probably be the scholarship money he receives.

Kowalski is looking at the UA, Willamette University, Knox College and the University of Colorado.

He said he is also very interested in the undergraduate research opportunities, faculty interaction with undergraduates and the location of the schools he is considering.

"This provided us with a great opportunity to experience the university firsthand and see what going here would be like," Kowalski said.

Many of the students said they were not invited for visits like the UA's at other schools. Some said they did get similar offers but had to pay at least part of the cost.